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I am a long time volunteer and parent of kids in NTPS; I have served on the Superintendent's advisory council, I have twenty years experience teaching Health Law and ethics classes to Graduate Medical Education students and advising on regulatory and policy issues and compliance.
The most pressing issues to me are poverty, readiness for kindergarten, and career readiness for graduating seniors. I think we do a good job of partnering with community resources to provide school supplies and nutritious food for kids who need it. We are adding AP college classes and technical skills classes to ensure career readiness. Therefore the issue that needs the most work is early childhood education intervention. According to District data, only 58 percent of kindergarteners in the district came into kindergarten with the necessary skills to be successful. This education gap puts those children at risk. Kids who are behind struggle and Teachers spend a great deal of effort trying to get kids caught up to standards rather than getting to concentrate on moving forward. Increasing pre-k options, and working in partnership with day cares and parents could help us ensure that every kid in our district starts prepared and reduce drop-out rates in older children.
I think Charter schools in large districts or struggling districts can create a "pocket of excellence" to motivate improvement throughout a struggling district. However in a successful district with ample opportunities throughout the district, Charter schools could also drain energy and resources from remaining schools. I would certainly be open to hearing Charter ideas if they truly filled a need not already met within our district and could not be met within our current school system structure.
In order to judge our own success as educators, goals must be both meaningful and measurable. If we do not measure whether students are meeting state or national bench marks, then we do not know what is working and should be expanded- or what is NOT working and should be changed. Therefore some level of testing is necessary to ensure that students, teachers, and administrators are effective and succeeding.
Ideally I would like to see elementary schools start earlier in our district and high schools start later because I think high schoolers learn better when they have had more sleep. However, because of the rain and darkness in the winter in western Washington, earlier bus routes create safety issues for elementary children. Start times are currently staggered to utilize less busses and therefore save money on transportation so all schools cannot start at the same time. High schools get out earlier to allow for sports and jobs. Elementary schools get out later which saves on after school care costs for parents. Therefore, before changing start times, I would seek community input from parents, staff, and students.
By improving the early education gap in k-3rd grade, all students would be better equipped to make it to graduation. Secondly, I would stress attendance, study skills, and critical thinking in junior highs. They need those habits for success in high school. Lastly, I would ask counsellors to engage students earlier in their post-high school plan to ensure that they are taking the necessary steps in high school to make their own personal plan a success. We could also increase summer school options, and peer tutoring for those who need additional assistance.
Bullying on school campuses has improved with additional resources and heightened awareness of bullying. However, cyber bullying is the new threat that has arisen with the prevalence of social media. We in NTPS are addressing that by our Compassionate Community program, and elementary "self manager" programs. Kids are very susceptible to peer pressure. When you make compassion "cool" the hope is that kids will model kindness as exhibited by their peers. Additionally, improving kids participation in at least one extracurricular activity decreases loneliness and promotes sense of community through students with like interests. That face to face interaction with peers helps strengthen community bonds. Other programs such as Unified Sports (that pair special education students with an athlete mentor) have helped forge bonds among kids who might not otherwise be included in traditional high school activities.
I believe government and civics classes should be a requirement. In order to exercise your rights as an adult, you have to be aware of what those rights are. In order to hold our government accountable, we need to understand how they are supposed to function. High school is the last opportunity to educate every student because not all will go to college. However, all 18 year olds have the ability to vote. The school system has the responsibility to produce educated and engaged citizens. Civics classes help produce responsible and empowered members of society.
I believe in in-school suspension only. Kids who act out are often behind in class. In school suspension removes them from the classroom to minimize their disruption to the class and learning of others, but keeps them in the education environment to continue their own lessons. In addition to class assignments, letters of apology, counseling efforts, and introspective learning assignments can help address the underlying motivations for the bad behavior.